The sad irony is that the Redskins are as good as anyone could have hoped. Let's go back to July. In July, would the most zealous loyalist have been happy with an 8-5 record after the second Dallas game? Happy beyond words.
But now we pick up the newspaper and Coy Bacon, a defensive end, is stabbing his playmates in the back. The general manager, Bobby Beathard, is accusing the players he hired of sport's cardinal sin, not caring enough about excellence.
And the Redskins are 8-5.
Bacon says the Redskins are not giving Coach Jack Pardee enough respect.
This is just a guess, but Pardee would likely trade Coy Bacon's respect for a few tackles by the filibustering end.
Dallas ran 7 zillion offensive plays Thursday.
Of those, the Cowboys ran maybe 3 zillion toward the Redskins' right end.
Coy Bacon is that end.
And Coy Bacon made no tackles.
According to the official defensive statistics. Bacon had only three assisted tackles.
The problem with the Redskins is not a lack of respect for the coach, nor is it an absence of desire.
It is a matter of talent.
Go back to July again.
In July, would anyone have wanted to face the mighty Cowboys with an offensive line that had new men at four of the five interior positions?
That's what the Redskins did Thursday.
In July, would anyone have wanted to face Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett with a defensive line that was entirely changed from the line that ended last season?
The Redskins did that Thursday, too.
So, of the nine linemen so vital to a team's success the Redskins went against Dallas with only one man who started at the job when the 1977 season anded.
This is a team in transition.
Pain was inevitable.
Yet the pain was postponed by the Redskins' 6-0 start this season. Indeed, it seemed Pardee was a miracle worker, for in the euphoria, everyone praised the coach for being so kindly, for juicing up the offense, for cutting practice time to save strength.
It was no miracle, that 6-0 start.
It was luck.
That is not meant to diminish the achievement. Any team that wins six straight NFL games is good. But good teams can pass for great when luck visits them.
The Redskins beat New England on opening day when the Patriots played terribly and finally gave away the victory with a fumble in the last two minutes. Not since the mid '60s have the Cowboys played more miserably than they did early this season, and the Redskins were lucky to catch them at RFK and fabricate a victory without scoring a touchdown.
So fragile was the structure of Redskin success that an injury to Mike Thomas brought it crumbling down. Without the little running back, the Redskins' offense suddenly went dead.
And when the team lost two games without him, there were grumbles about Thomas' willingness to give his all. Some players, particularly the wizened veterans, characterized Thomas as a malingerer who would not play with pain.
We can dismiss such talk as more locker-room gossip, but the more important aspect of the Thomas affair is that the Redskins had no one to replace him. The Cowboys lost Robert Newhouse, a better back than Thomas, and yet replaced him with Scott Laidlaw, who promptly gained 122 yards against the Redskins.
It is, the current Redskin travail, a matter of talent.
George Allen knew that. The coach's persistent flirtation with the Rams was a way out from the mess he created here. His most important players were growing very old. His draft choices had been traded away. No one in the league was anxious to trade with him. So Allen saw the Redskins as a team in trouble.
And be arranged to be fired.
At 6-0, Thomas was hurt. Soon, Lemar Parrish and George Starke went down. Then John Riggins missed a game. And Diron Talbert had surgery. Once stars, Billy Kilmer and Ron McDole became spectators, their jobs taken by younger men.
Injuries and aging are inevitable on all teams, but perhaps to none are they so damaging as to these Redskins. Allen saw the sky falling and rushed to safety in Southern California. With the Rams, he would have youth, depth of talent and draft choices to build on.
As Allen fled town, Redskin watchers saw a season of disaster in 1978, perhaps 5-11 or 6-10. In July of this year, when Pardee and Beathard were working to get this wreckage in some kind of order, an 8-5 record at Thanksgiving would have been thought a gift from on high.
That's because the eight victories would be achieved by a team in transition. Bodies were coming in and going out. The offensive system was changed. By Thanksgiving, there were seven new starters on offense, four on defense. Fully half the 1977 starters would be replaced. Of the 45 men on the roster, 16 would be in their first year with the Redskins.
It was downright laughable Thanksgiving Day when one of those new men, defensive tackle Perry Brooks, said the Cowboys were just lucky in the 37-10 victory. Even as Brooks said the Cowboys' offensive line was "just another offensive line," two images of these "lucky" Cowboys came to mind.
In one picture, late in the game, Laidlaw blasted over the right side of the Redskin line on a two-yard touchdown run. And who was the Redskin lineman knocked backwards five yards? Perry Brooks.
In another vivid scene, the Cowboys' defensive end, Ed Jones, was coming on a pass rush. He took tackle Jim Harlan by the shirtsleeves and tossed him aside. Then Jones leapt - leapt! - over center Bob Kuziel. And came down on quarterback Joe Theismann's head.Theismann's pass was incomplete by six miles.
That was not a lucky Cowboy.
That was a talented Cowboy.